More photos from the Airbus factory tour

Just a few more photos from inside the final assembly building at Toulouse…

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Inspecting the crew rest bunks

As a group of mostly very frequent flyers, getting to go behind the scenes and see the other side of the operations is always interesting.  After all, we’ spend plenty of time on the customer side.  Hitting up the crew side is the next step in the adventure.  So when Lufthansa opened up access to their Technik facility – their maintenance operations – scores of our group showed up to take part. 

Among other things, the group wandered through a couple planes that were in for their regular maintenance checks.  These planes are essentially fully disassembled and then put back together, with various bits replaced and refreshed along the way.  One of the more popular scenes during these tours were the visits to the crew rest bunks.  They may not be glamorous, but they are fully flat, quiet and dark.  Not too shabby.  I could travel like that.  Then again, I’ve been in an overhead bin and didn’t think it was all that bad. 

Anyways, here are pictures of some folks having fun in the crew rest bunks:

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Inside the A380 final assembly building

It has been a few days since my last post about the A380 factory tour and most of faculties have finally returned.  You’ve seen many of the pictures already but I also have some video shot inside the factory with Richard Carcaillet, the Director of Product Marketing for the A380.  He talks about some of the details on the final assembly, demand for the A380 and assembly time, as well as the value proposition for the aircraft.

There are also a couple videos from inside the mock-up center.  Airbus uses the facility to show off interior design options to customers from seating arrangements to overhead bins to trim details.  I never thought I’d see eleven different cabin configurations on a single plane but there they were in the A380 mock-up.  Very cool stuff, though sadly no photos allowed inside the mock-ups.  Still pretty interesting.

Fun ‘n’ snow in Oslo

First stop on the trip was Oslo to pick up a few more participants and to meet the folks from SAS who were kind enough to host us.  They provided all the traditional Norwegian fare for us, including snow on arrival.  Walking off the plane in a Hawaiian shirt and making a snow ball was quite enjoyable.

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There was traditional music and dance:

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And there were a bunch of displays set up around the hangar.  The Air Force had a demo of their med-evac procedures on display and we were able to walk around one of the planes, including in the engine cowls and the landing gear areas.  Very cool stuff.

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There was a presentation from the folks at SAS about their airline and the Euro Bonus program as well as two singing performances by one of the flight attendants, including one where the wing of the plane was used as the stage.  Video of that should be forthcoming shortly.

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And then there was the biggest surprise of the morning’s events.  The main organizer, Tommy, actually got to leave the plane via the evacuation slide:

Some others hopped on afterwards, but I am quite certain it wasn’t the same.

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And then our stay in Oslo was complete.  It was off to the de-icing pad and our departure for Toulouse.  Another exciting flight and an even more exciting arrival!

Double-decker excitement

The A380 is simply huge.  There is no other way to describe it.  And the reception we received from the folks at Airbus and the tour that they provided was huge as well.

I wrote the above more than 5 hours ago in an attempt to be witty, smart and informative.  In reality what I am is drunk and exhausted.  Therefore there will be no more text in this post.  Look at the pretty pictures and enjoy.  Hopefully I’ll get more than 3 hours of sleep tonight (unlike the last three) and there will be more coherence in the morning.

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Fine dining with Star Alliance and Lufthansa

Wrapping up the first day of the tours here in Germany, our group was treated to a meal by the folks from Lufthansa and Star Alliance.  The event was held in the main dining room of Lufthansa’s executive offices just off the airport grounds and we were very well taken care of, to say the least.

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Good booze and good food flowed, as did good friendship and camaraderie.

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Jan Albrecht was present, along with a number of other executives from airlines and the alliance.  They were happy to circulate among the crowd and get feedback from our group, with one of them noting rather humbly that they knew that the FlyerTalk community has a more in-depth understanding of their products than even they do and that they depend on us a good amount to know when things are broken.

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A few more speeches, including the very appropriate and heartfelt thanks being extended to the organizers of the event.

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Lufthansa had some flight attendants at the event as part of the photo shoot and then to be at the party to show off some of the retro uniforms that they used to use.  Quite sharp, to say the least.

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Boarding passes being distributed:

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John celebrating the fact that he managed to lose and find his passport in the 12 hours prior to the departure from the USA.  He had great reason to drink and celebrate, not that we really need good reasons.

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Getting ready to head out on the first charter flight now. 

Welcoming Continental to Star Alliance

Continental Airlines is no stranger to providing quality tours to the FlyerTalk crowd, and the Star MegaDo was no exception.  By the time we got to Newark our crowd was about 100 strong.  There were three different tours offered, ranging from the maintenance hangar (a 757-300 was having an engine swapped out) to the Operations tower to the catering facility at Chelsea Kitchens.

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I got to go on the Chelsea Kitchens tour (a good thing, since I’ve done the other two already) and it was truly amazing.  The operations is as much large-scale manufacturing – thousands of pounds of ice every day and millions of dollars of inventory moving through monthly – as it is a kitchen, but that isn’t to say that they don’t run it as a real kitchen.  The operations run 24/7 every day, cooking, baking and packaging up meals for hundreds of flights per day.

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Leon is one of the shift managers in the kitchens and he was kind enough to walk us through the operation, showing us everything from packaging of ice cream sundaes to the baking of thousands of fresh breakfast muffins daily.  And, in case you’re curious, they do bake the rolls for the turkey puck in house every day.

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Then it was off to JFK for some partying in the lounge and the not-so-long flight over to Frankfurt.

Operations and dispatch from their point of view

The idea of airport and airline operations seems simple enough.  Make sure that the planes, crews, bags and passengers all know where they need to be and that they get there as close to on time as possible.  OK, maybe it doesn’t actually seem all that simple.  Still, when you learn what is actually going on behind all those “Restricted Access” doors in the airport it introduces a whole new level of respect and appreciation for just how complex it is to run a major airline’s day-to-day operations successfully.

As part of the Star Mega Do we were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to go behind those closed doors and meet with the folks that make sure everything works the way it is supposed to at United Airlines’s O’Hare facility.  And boy did we learn a lot.

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One of the elevator rides on the tour.  Yeah, the elevators are really big.

First stop for my group was up in the air.  We climbed the 59 steps up to the tower perched above the terminal to visit with the group responsible for coordinating the movement of aircraft on the ground.  These folks manage more than just the United planes and they do a top-notch job.

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Climbing up the 59 steps to the tower (l.); Freddie, Jr. in the tower, helping with dispatch

After that we headed back down into the belly of the terminal to visit the on-site operations center as well as the crew planning and rest facilities.  We got to chat with a group of 777-200 pilots who were mapping out their route to Beijing for today’s flight along with several other folks in there.

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The crew of today’s ORD-PEK flight, working on the flight plan
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Tommy takes a moment to clean up before continuing the tour

A couple of us also stopped to speak with Jerry in the operations center.  He was excited to show us how IGAPS works for assigning gates as well as how they use it to monitor flight delays and possible misconnecting passengers.  So next time they decide to not hold a connection for you, remember that it is Jerry’s fault, not that of the gate agent you’re yelling at.  It is hard to believe that he was not willing to give us his phone number, huh?

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Jerry shows us the details of our outbound flight in Ops

A warm welcome at the United Red Carpet Club

The first stop on the official Star Mega Do itinerary was a reception in the Red Carpet Club for the 40-odd folks who made the trip to Chicago.  In addition to the usual snack fare there were some additional breakfast options available.  Plus some goodies, including luggage tags and copies of the book on the history of United Airlines.  All good stuff.

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Goodies in the RCC!

We were fortunate to have a number of executives roaming the room, including the folks in charge of the Mileage Plus program and the Red Carpet Clubs.  The RCCs are expecting to see major renovations in the coming year or two, at least in the hub cities, to bring them up to the design standard of the new O’Hare B18 lounge.  That’s great news, even if it does mean that some of the lounges will be shut down at various points in time.

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Graham Atkinson addresses the group

The news from Mileage Plus is equally interesting though I suppose the actual value of the changes will depend both on what they actually are – the execs were quite tight-lipped on that aspect – but they are working diligently with the United IT group to make the necessary back-end changes happen.

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The trippy lights in the ORD B-C tunnel

We also got to meet the pilot for our trip – Bob Hart – and chat with him about the flight plan and his job in general.  Not to be outdone by one of his colleagues, Captain Denny Flanagan showed up on his day off to socialize with the FlyerTalk group, A group in which he is quite well known as an all-around great guy.

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Captain Denny Flanagan with Freddie, Jr. (l) and Captain Bob Hart signing books for the crowd (r)

SBM_0682There was much socializing, meeting of new friends and reconnecting with existing friends.  It was also the first opportunity that Randy Petersen, the founder of FlyerTalk and frequent flyer guru, had to meet with the winner of the contest he sponsored for a seat on the trip.  Mike Holovacs of New Jersey is the lucky winner and he is joining the party gratis and flying in the front of the cabin the whole way through.  Truly an amazing prize to win.

After the meet & greet we headed out into, above and beneath the terminal for tours of the operations and other behind the scenes stuff.  Look for that report coming soon!

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